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Monday, 21 June 2010


Has the recession turned Londoners into miserable stay-at-homes? Far from it. The city’s better bars are as upbeat as ever, & ‘the blues’ is making a comeback, judging by the rash of music lounges that have sprung up around town recently. Even non-aficionados will be familiar with names-to-drop such as the world-famous Ronnie Scott’s or Blues at the 100 Club, but strike out from Soho for some equally sexy saloons. Whether your tastes run to Big Mama Thornton; Sonny Boy Williamson or Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, this musical pick is aimed at those who want to go Wang Dang Doodle – as the late Koko Taylor sang it.
The Juke Joint at Charlotte Street Blues W1
Check out the resident blues band downstairs at this all-new, 30s-style juke joint where Charlotte Street morphs into Beale Street. Upstairs, the main stage hosts huckleberry friends of the calibre of Matt Schofield and early genre adopters, the Yardbirds, as well as high-profile foreign visitors including Grammy nominee John Lee Hooker Jnr. Choose from over 80 bourbons, sip Mint Julep in trad tin cups or blow out on buckets of beer from £12.50. For grub, get stuck into a Reubens sandwich, ‘black sheep’ burger or blackened Cajun chicken with sweet potato fries. If you aim to join the jitterbug jive on a packed dance floor, avoid the Mississippi mud pie.
Round Midnight  N1
Low-key, laid-back and deadly serious about the quality of its live gigs, this appealing indie bar features blues, jazz and soul as good-time gumbo along with a range of ice-cold brews, vino at recession-friendly prices, southern-belle cocktails, burgers, ribs and the like, served until the joint gets jammed around 8-ish. Rollo Markee, Bridie King and the Reasons, the Sax Pastels:  the names may not may not be as instantly recognisable as, say, Howlin’ Wolf, but the same spirit flows through their veins. One day you’ll boast how you saw them performing at a small Islington neighbourhood joint before they made the big time.
The Blues Kitchen NW1
Bourbon Smash, Tennessee Iced Tea and Mint Julep are all present and correct at this groovy Camden lunch-to-late homage to Dixie. Pick of the nights are Monday’s ‘Here come the girls’, showcasing the best Delta lady vocalists and the ‘Sunday jam’ (6-midnight), when dozens of musicians rock up with their instruments ready to strum and blow. Register to join the Blues Kitchen band on stage for a ’Sing for your supper’ contest: the winner claims the right to be fed like a king from a soul food menu that includes Louisiana staples ‘po boy’ submarine sandwich, surf & turf, jambalaya and pecan pie.. 

Ain’t Nothing' But…W1

This beat-up atmospheric interpretation of a New Orleans juke joint has a solid fan-base which, given its dimensions, means you’ll likely queue and once inside, be getting up close and personal with complete strangers. No matter;  the vibe is buzzy and; friendly as each night of the week the room reverberates to a roster of house bands covering anything from Chicago blues, West Coast swing, Hendrix-style guitars and voodoo vocalists that sound like they’ve been gargling with Jim Beam and razor blades . Obviously, you’ll order rye or Bourbon with beer backs: a G andT is for limey wimps whose definition of the Blues goes no further than Duncan James, Anthony Costa et co. Food-wise, expect jambalaya, crawfish pie, fillet gumbo -as the song goes - that’s to say Southern cooking to suit any a-Cajun.

The 606 Club SW10

 Dubbed ‘London’s best music venue’ by pint-sized pianist, Jamie Cullum, no less, this casual jazz-orientated joint promises smoochy sax and horny brass sections, with up to ten live bands and combos featured each week. Don’t be surprised to see off-duty stars drop in for an impromptu jam. Booking at weekends is invariably essential; this warm, buzzy, intimate Chelsea cellar is a squeeze, albeit a  comfortable (air-conditioned) one. Membership makes sense at £95 pa but the room is also accessible to non-members who are not permitted to order from the bar unless dining.  Allow £50 a head for three courses with entry-level wine from a list of two dozen that includes French interest at £30.Organic beer and imported lagers are also served. A la carte  dishes might typically include chorizo with feta, fresh anchovy crostini, roast rump of lamb & all the trimmings, salmon terriyaki, vegetarian linguine, lemon tart and crème brulée. A Sunday lunch sitting is set to the stirring sounds of deep soul and gospel voices.
The Vortex Jazz Club  N16 

Downstairs’ (a cocktail lounge-cum-casual restaurant below) have attracted the likes of Dame Cleo Laine and  British pianist/composer Django Bates to deeply hip Dalston. Connections with the jazz scenes in New York and elsewhere ensure that a healthy mix of visiting artistes appears alongside impressive local heroes on nightly display. Daytime eats and a range of bargain cocktails are served downstairs, along with wines (from £12) and beers. The main venue – modernist, minimalist and thankfully air-conditioned – overlooks a square where alfresco performances are occasionally scheduled. 

Getting the blues in Streatham is no longer necessarily implies traffic jams on the A23; the arrival of live music venue Hideaway ensures that blues, jazz, funk, soul and Latin fans can get their regular fix down south. The revamped venue,  tastefully converted former snooker halls got up in post-industrial chic, affords good views of a stage served by a top-notch sound system. At the bar, Kronenbourg and Heineken head the drafts and there’s cocktails and easy drinker wines for a smart casual crowd. To eat, choose from an anglo-European menu that might offer savoury tartlets with salad, pumpkin and pecorino risotto, rib eye béarnaise with chips, calves liver, bacon, bubble and squeak, and brownies, ices  or crumbles, all at pub prices. Hideaway’s uptown offer ensures that Streatham is no longer the butt of jokes about grim suburbia.